Gentle discipline: so good, but…

February 20, 2024

Gentle discipline, or gentle parenting, is an educational method that focuses on teaching appropriate behaviors through empathy, respect, and understanding, rather than punishments (including hateful violence such as spanking) and rewards. This approach encourages parents to understand the reasons behind their children’s behavior and work with them to find constructive solutions. Instead of rigidly imposing authority, gentle discipline is based on communication and positive relationships, promoting self-regulation and responsibility in children.

Why are punishments not needed?

Punishments may seem like a quick fix to correct unwanted behavior, but they often do not address the root of the problem. Studies show that while they can temporarily suppress a behavior, they can also generate feelings of anger, frustration, and low self-esteem in children. Moreover, punishments do not teach children to make better choices in the future but rather to avoid the punishment itself. Gentle discipline, in contrast, aims to develop long-term emotional and social skills in children.

What are the problems with gentle discipline?

Although gentle discipline offers many benefits, there are challenges that parents may encounter. Some may find it too lax, confusing gentle with a lack of clear boundaries. It is essential to set firm but fair rules, which must be consistent and accompanied by explanations that children can understand. In addition, gentle discipline requires time and patience and can be especially difficult to apply in stressful situations or when parents themselves have not received similar education.

Not only that, but it actively requires parents to suppress their emotions in the name of peaceful dialogue, which is often not possible. How can we educate about emotionality if we are the first to suppress what we feel? Moreover, how do we support these parents when dialogue does not work?

Gentle discipline may be fine for talented educators with years of expertise and practice in the field: parents, in most cases, are not in this situation and so they struggle and end up feeling inadequate and incapable, risking parental burnout.

How do we educate without punishing?

Educating without punishing requires a major shift in mindset. Instead of focusing on negative consequences, parents should focus their attention on how to incentivize positive behaviors. This includes setting clear expectations, using positive reinforcement, and spending time discussing and problem-solving with children. It is also important to show empathy, listen to their needs and feelings, and encourage them to express themselves constructively. This is easier if you have the skills to do this or if you have set up this kind of habit from the beginning. Much more difficult if you have never done it and want to introduce it later.

How to scold children?

When it is necessary to intervene in inappropriate behavior, it is important to do so respectfully and productively. Instead of yelling or punishing, parents should use calm but firm language to express their expectations. Explaining the reasons behind a particular rule and the natural consequences of not following it can be much more effective if you know how. In addition, it is crucial to provide opportunities for recovery and learning from one’s mistakes, rather than focusing only on the negative consequences. The biggest problem with this approach is that it does not always work the first time, and parents may not understand what they should do.

Why alternatives to gentle discipline are needed.

Despite its many benefits, some parents may struggle with the application of gentle discipline, especially if they are unprepared or encounter resistance from children. Frustration can mount when parents feel they have to give up some of their control, or even their own emotions, but do not have the proper tools to handle the situation. In these cases, it is important to explore alternatives that may better fit the family dynamic while maintaining the principles of mutual respect and understanding. Assertive communication techniques, the shared definition of rules and limits, and problem-solving strategies can be effectively integrated into gentle discipline.

We at Parentalife have been working on a new educational method that goes to correct the problems of gentle discipline and put, at last, parents at the center. If you want to know more, please get in touch with us without any problem.

We are with you

At Parentalife, we understand the challenges of parenting in the modern age. We are here to offer you personalized guides, courses, and advice to navigate the complex world of parenting. Remember, every family is unique, and finding the right approach can take time and experimentation. We are with you every step of the way.

SOURCES

Benoit D. Infant-parent attachment: Definition, types, antecedents, measurement and outcome. Paediatr Child Health. 2004 Oct;9(8):541-545. doi: 10.1093/pch/9.8.541. PMID: 19680481; PMCID: PMC2724160.

About the Author

Severino Cirillo

Health, Wellness and Education Expert. With a degree in Community Health, he is the CEO of Informed Parent and is responsible for validating the blog's scientific information and coordinating the editorial team of experts, consisting of gynecologists, midwives, psychotherapists, and others in pregnancy, perinatal, and parenting wellness and health.